The Washington Capitals traded Jakub Vrana for forward Anthony Mantha at the 2021 Trade Deadline with the expectation that the French Canadian would bring stability and consistent point-producing to the team’s top-six forward group.
But since arriving in DC, Mantha’s struggled to stay healthy and consistently contribute. A serious shoulder injury early last season sidelined him for over half of the 2021-22 season. Mantha’s registered 31 points (13g, 18a) in 51 regular-season games, but scored no goals in two postseason series with the team.
With both Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson out long term to start the year, Mantha understands he must make more of an impact.
“I’m going to have to step up, for sure,” Mantha said to RDS’ Jean-Christophe Bertrand in French and via a Google Translation. “We will miss Backstrom, Wilson at the start of the year. I will have a more important role and I will give my best for the team.”
Mantha, TJ Oshie, and new acquisition Connor Brown will likely compete in Training Camp to replace Wilson on the first line and skate with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov on the right wing. The Ovi-Kuzy-Mantha trio has seen zero worthwhile ice time together at five-on-five over the past two seasons (6:16 TOI) but Mantha’s size and skill level may be seen as the best option to replace Wilson.
Last season, Mantha underwent major shoulder surgery in early November after injuring himself in a game against the Florida Panthers. Mantha rehabbed and returned to game action in March. The 6-foot-5 forward scored five goals in his first 11 games back, but other than a two-goal, four-point night against the lowly Montreal Canadiens on April 16, Mantha went goalless in 15 of his final 16 games.
“The return has been good,” he said. “It was mentally difficult for four months. [The games] before the (offseason), it felt good mentally. I wish myself 82 games this year and to have the firepower necessary to help the team.”
Mantha acknowledged the Capitals are “a good regular season team” but that the team needs to improve in the postseason and go on deeper runs. The Capitals have not won a playoff series since they won the Stanley Cup in 2018 and have been first-rounded both years since Mantha joined the team. One way the Caps franchise is trying to address the issue is a total revamp of their goaltending position by adding both reigning Stanley Cup champion Darcy Kuemper and backup Charlie Lindgren in free agency.
“We were surprised,” Mantha said. “Not shocked, but amazed at two changes (in goal) rather than one. It’s only positive. You acquire a goalkeeper who won the Stanley Cup last year, it’s a lot of experience. It’s confidence that [Kuemper] will bring in front of the net.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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